Feline eye contact, like human eye contact, is a form of communication. If you've noticed your cat staring, you're likely to be wondering 'Why does my cat stare at me?'. It's normal for a cat owner to be worried about whether a cat stare is a sign of feline aggression, but in fact, this intense eye contact is a cat's way to show affection.
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What are the reasons for a cat staring?
If your cat seems to always be watching, take pride in the knowledge that you are a very special human. Cats tend to limit eye contact with people that they don't like, but will stare intently at someone they're more comfortable around.
A cat's stare can feel very intense, because they can keep staring for a very long time because of the way their eyes work. They have a third eyelid, known as a nictitating membrane, which moves diagonally over the eye.
The third eyelid is very thin, almost invisible, and moves over the eye very quickly. This third eyelid cleans and moistens the eye, so the cat doesn't need to use their main eyelids very often. As a result, they can keep on staring for what can seem like forever.
In some cases, a cat's stare could be a sign of a health problem. Your cat might be staring if they're losing their eyesight, though you'll probably notice accompanying signs like your cat bumping into things when walking.
Also pay attention to the direction your kitty is looking in - if they're looking at you, it's fairly safe to assume that they're trying to get your attention, but if they're staring into space then there may be a cause for concern, especially if you struggle to get your cat's attention. If there are no other signs of ill health, your cat's stare is simply a way to show that you're one of their favorite people.
How can you decipher cat behavior?
Whilst a cat's stare is almost always affectionate, different staring behaviors can have different meaning. The question 'Why does my cat stare at me?' can only really be answered with a little more context.
If a cat's stare is narrow rather than wide-eyed, this could be a sign of aggression or fear rather than a positive signal. Notice the shape of the eyes, and also the pupils which will also narrow if a cat's feeling on edge.
You can learn to read your cat's body language by taking cues from the environment. If your kitty is staring as they sit by their food bowl, they're probably hoping that staring into your soul will show you that they're ready for food.
Cats that stare when they're not near their food bowl are usually demonstrating trust. This can be accompanied by a very slow blink, or eyelids being half-closed. A slow blink is, essentially, cat-speak for 'I love you'. You can respond to your cat's affection by slow-blinking back.
What is your cat's body language telling you?
Only if your cat or kitten feels safe around you will they watch you with an unbroken stare and wide, relaxed eyes. A cat's pupil will grow wider as they're excited, although a dilated pupil with a state could also be a sign of fear.
Your cat's eyes are an important tool to help you work out how they're feeling, but you may need to look at the bigger picture to understand exactly what's happening, including body language and the tone of their meowing.
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Relaxed and Happy
A relaxed, happy cat will have body language that's very open and soft. Their body will be gently curved, rather than tense and arched.
A relaxed cat might be sitting still or lying down, with a very open posture that allows you access to their tummy. Your kitty might not like to be tickled on its stomach, but leaving this part of their body on display will show that they feel relaxed and trusting. A cat's tummy is a vulnerable spot, so it won't have it on display freely.
When your cat is happy, their tail is likely to stick straight up towards the sky. The tail might also have a slight curve, or hook.
Agitated or Annoyed
An agitated cat will swish its tail quite quickly from side to side. Moving almost like a whip, the tail is a sign that a cat's had enough of your game. Think of a swishing tail as a precursor to some more aggressive behavior. If you ignore the swishing tail, you're likely to be met with hissing and claws very soon.
An agitated cat might also be narrowing its eyes. It might be watching you closely, but the facial expression could not be described as relaxed.
Angry and Aggressive
An angry cat, past agitated, might fluff up to look bigger than usual. Their fur will stand on end and they might arch their back while staring. Their claws might come out and they may be hissing, with their ears twisting around, so that they seem back-to-front, or going flat against the head.
At this stage, if you missed earlier signs such as your cat staring at you in a way that didn't seem friendly, then it's very clear that your cat is unhappy with your presence and you should give them space.
Nervous or Fearful
Nervous cats will hide, or tuck away their tails, and press their ears back against their head. They're also likely to look around in all directions, or to have narrowed eyes with dilated pupils to show that they're alert and feeling fearful.
Nervous cats look very different to cats that are feeling aggressive, because they're trying to shrink away and make themselves look as small as possible. These cats are in 'flight' mode rather than 'fight', so instead of trying to make their anger clear they'll be looking for the quickest escape route.
Why does my cat stare at me?
If your cat's body language seems relaxed and happy, think of the stare as a positive form of non-verbal communication. Though your feline friend cannot speak your language, the cat stare is a form of affection that can transcend your communication differences.
If your cat's staring seems to be aimed at nothing in particular, this could be a sign of a health issue. If your pet is staring with dilated pupils, they're more likely to be showing you that they're uncomfortable.
Does your cat stare at you a lot? Comment below if you've tried slow blinking back, to show your cat how much you love them.